Monday, 1 February 2016

A winter’s day in Singapore

I was about to leave my apartment when I heard the wind howl. I walked to the window and brushed aside the curtains. There was frost on the trees outside. The occasional icicle was dripping water to the ground below. Not!

Living in the tropics a few degrees from the equator means we enjoy only two seasons in Singapore: wet and dry. Honestly, the dry season sometimes seems pretty wet too. Except perhaps last year when we coughed our lungs out due to the haze blowing across from Indonesia.

Come to think of it, in recent years we have added a new season to the Singapore calendar: the Haze Season!

But let's not dwell on embarrassing subjects – at least for Singapore and ASEAN diplomacy. Instead, let's focus on the monsoon season and its impact on the development of Singapore and the broader region.

Until the arrival of steamships in the mid-1800s all sea trade was dependent on the wind. Wind patterns dictated when and where sailors roamed. Without wind power a sailing ship was useless.

It was the monsoon wind which directed traffic to and from China and the spice rich islands of modern day Indonesia. Monsoon is derived from the Arabic word 'mawsim' or season. Not surprising as the Arabs had long mastered the art of seafaring and had built up extensive trade links with Southeast Asia several centuries before European explorers began mapping the region.

Spices such as nutmeg and clove depended on the Southwest and the Northeast Monsoon winds to move from Southeast Asia to other parts of the globe. The Southwest Monsoon, which typically lasts from May until October, helped ships sail from South Asia towards the East. The Northeast Monsoon from December to March blew in the opposite direction, allowing ships to return to South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula from farther East.

Singapore's strategic location near the Straits of Melaka helped transform Singapore into the trade hub it remains until this day. The spice trade, which revolved around the monsoon winds, necessitated sailing ships pass – if not dock – at Singapore during their often dangerous journeys. This traffic enabled Singapore to flourish as a commercial entrepot.

A view of ships in waters off the coast of Singapore
Being close to the equator defines not only Singapore's weather but also its identity. While I would love to be able to wear two (just two!) layers of clothing for a few weeks each year, I console myself by eating a few roti pratas instead. After all, it's due to the monsoon winds that we enjoy the rich multiplicities of food, culture and people on the island!   

Roti pratas, a quintessential Singaporean dish, alongside a bowl of curry. Singapore's food dishes represent the island's diverse ethnic and cultural mix
Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries in his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Imran can be contacted at Follow Imran on twitter at @grandmoofti and Instragram at imranahmedsg.